Chinese visitors to France - the world's top tourist destination - are to get fast-track visas as part of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Paris establishing full diplomatic ties with Communist Beijing.
Chinese visitors' travel requests will be processed within 48 hours, according to the new visa regime due to come into force on January 27 and tourism operators on the mainland expect an increase in numbers travelling as a consequence.
“For us, the faster, the better,” Ye Xin, a travel agent based in Shanghai said, although she thought the new measure would not bring dramatic rises, as the current proceeding period is between three to five working days,
France is the prime European destination for Chinese tourists – a record 1.4 million travelled there last year, and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said during a visit to Beijing last month his country saw as many as 300 million potential visitors.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced the measure yesterday as he unveiled year-long events feting the January 27, 1964 date on which France broke ranks with the US to open ties with the then-government of Mao Zedong - a decision that paved the way for China to gain global recognition.
Fabius told a press conference that former French president Charles De Gaulle's "pioneering" decision "gave France a special position in China", which had been buttressed over the years.
De Gaulle's decision caused diplomatic shockwaves at a time when the United States was still insisting the nationalist regime that had escaped to Taiwan should be considered the legitimate government of all of China.
"It was a visionary decision with respect to a great power in the making, whose importance in world affairs today bears testimony to it," Fabius said. By way of comparison, full diplomatic relations between China and Britain were only established in 1972, and in 1979 with the United States.
The events will include exhibitions in China showcasing the works of leading French artists such as Impressionist painter Claude Monet and sculptor Auguste Rodin.
An exhibition on De Gaulle, France's wartime resistance hero who served as president between 1959 and 1969, will also take place and a bullet-riddled Citroen car in which he survived an assassination attempt by opponents of Algerian independence will be sent to China.
Treasures from China's Han dynasty will be on display in Paris among several other events.
"This will also be an occasion to promote France as a tourist destination to the Chinese public," Fabius said.
France is the prime European destination for Chinese tourists, with a record 1.4 million visitors from China last year.
The inauguration event for the year-long anniversary at the Grand Palais museum in Paris will include a solo performance by the famed Chinese pianist Lang Lang. China will also be the guest of honour at the Paris art fair in March, while the limelight will be on France in the Western China International Fair.
A total of 97 million Chinese travelled out of the country last year, up 14 million up from the previous year, according to China’s National Tourism Administration, making mainlanders the world’s most numerous travellers.
Meanwhile, Chinese tourists are described as “walking wallets”, as Chinese travellers spent 102 billion yuan (HK$129 billion) overseas, a 40 per cent rise on the previous year, according to the latest Green Book of China Tourism.
“Europe has become a popular place to visit, shop and do business in recent years,” said Guo Shenghua, a visa agent based in Beijing, “It certainly is attractive to visitors [from the mainland].”